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Inside Twitter's chaotic short-notice layoffs

Elon Musk's team started laying off employees late Thursday without any heads-up, dismaying workers and prompting at least one lawsuit,
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Twitter was plunged into turmoil Friday after Elon Musk's team started laying off wide swaths of the company's workforce, infuriating employees and rattling a technology industry already grappling with an economic downturn.

The mass layoffs were documented in part on the social media platform itself, where many employees appeared to rally together in solidarity under the #OneTeam hashtag, and the blue heart and the salute emojis.

Employees commiserated in Slack channels, and some found themselves abruptly locked out of their email accounts, according to six workers who spoke to NBC News and CNBC. All requested that their names be withheld, citing fears of professional retribution or losing their severance pay.

"Elon will own a company without employees," a source inside Twitter told CNBC.

In a post Friday evening, Musk, said there was "no choice" but to lay off employees, who he said were offered three months of severance.

In an exchange at an investor conference Friday, Musk appeared to confirm that his team had laid off half the company’s workforce, according to CNBC.

Ron Baron, a hedge fund manager who has invested in Twitter, said to Musk: “Today we fired half of Twitter, and that should save us, what, $4 billion?” In response, Musk said in part: “I wish, [but] to be frank, Twitter was having pretty serious revenue challenges and cost challenges before the acquisition talks started.” (Baron later clarified that he meant to say $400 million.)

An employee based in New York said she woke up to a layoff notice in her email inbox. The notice, sent around 3 a.m. and signed only with the name "Twitter," said in part that her role at the company had been "impacted."

The employee, who deals with advertising, said she was informed in the email that she would receive compensation through sometime in February. She said she knew she would likely be laid off when she was locked from her work email and Slack channels late Thursday.

She said she was one of many workers who felt ready to leave the company, explaining that Musk's takeover had spoiled the community spirit that drew her to the social media service in the first place. 

"He really ruined the company in its day in and out operations. When you see the news and it’s about your job and you have to continue on with the business as usual approach — it’s just an intense situation," she said. "It doesn’t seem sustainable."

In a remarkable outpouring Friday, Twitter users who identified themselves as company employees announced they had been laid off, expressing gratitude for their experiences before the Musk takeover and decrying the bluntness of the layoff process.

Twitter has already been sued over the workforce reductions. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, alleges the company violated federal and state laws that require 60 days notice of mass layoffs, according to a court document.

The class-action suit names five current or former workers as plaintiffs, including one who was allegedly told he was terminated effective Tuesday; Twitter is listed as the defendant.

Three other staff members were locked out of their Twitter accounts as of Thursday with no formal notice of a layoff, which they interpret to mean they will lose their jobs, according to the lawsuit.

The company said staffing was being cut back in "an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path."

In the midst of the chaos, some Twitter users — in a potential preview of what might happen if Musk unwinds rules around verification — essentially spoofed his account, replacing their handle and profile photo with that of the mogul.

Inside the company, anxieties about potential layoffs were swirling around even before Musk’s takeover was finished. However, Twitter’s general counsel urged workers not to dwell on rumors before Musk took the reins.

Musk was already under intense scrutiny for how he might reshape Twitter in his own image. Tech industry observers have raised concerns that he might loosen content moderation policies that limit hate speech and political disinformation.

Twitter is also facing growing criticism from key civil rights groups, including leaders who met with Musk earlier this week to discuss hate speech and harassment.

Derrick Johnson, the head of the NAACP and one of that meeting's attendees, tweeted Friday afternoon that it was "immoral, dangerous, and highly destructive to our democracy for any advertiser to fund a platform that fuels hate speech, election denialism and conspiracy theories."

"Until actions are taken to make this a safe space, we call on companies to pause all advertising on Twitter," Johnson added.

A self-proclaimed "free speech absolutist" who acquired the company in a $44 billion deal, Musk insists that he is receptive to advice on where to take the company.